Former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe dies at 95

Robert Mugabe, former prime minister and president of Zimbabwe whose rule was mired in accusations of human rights abuses and corruption, has died at the age of 95.

His 40-year leadership of the former British colony was marked with bloodshed, persecution of political opponents and vote-rigging on a large scale.

The death of a long-serving Commonwealth leader would usually attract numerous tributes; however, there have been few in praise of Mr Mugabe and instead he has been memorialised as a dictator.

Labour MP Kate Hoey, former chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe and a longtime critic of Mr Mugabe, tweeted: “Mugabe brought independence to Zimbabwe and then killed in the Gukurahundi – up to 80,000 of his own citizens in Matabeleland and brought his country to its knees economically. A hero to a brutal dictator.”

Former Zimbabwe international cricketer Henry Olonga – who was exiled from his home country and faced death threats after standing up to Mr Mugabe in Harare at the 2003 World Cup – called the former president a “megalomaniac”.

He told the PA news agency: “It makes me incredibly sad because, for all he could have represented, he failed to scale the heights of someone like Nelson Mandela, because he became a megalomaniac, a power-hungry tyrant, a dictator and a man who subjugated his own people while purporting to be representing them.”

Current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed Mr Mugabe’s death on Friday, calling him a “pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people”.

He said: “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute, saying: “Under President Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe’s sustained and valiant struggle against colonialism inspired our own struggle against apartheid and built in us the hope that one day South Africa too would be free.”

Born in then-Rhodesia, Mr Mugabe co-founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) in 1963, a resistance movement against British colonial rule.

He became prime minister of the new Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980 and assumed the role of president seven years later.

In 2000 he led a campaign to evict white farmers from their land, which was given to black Zimbabweans, and led to famine.

Mr Mugabe retained a strong grip on power, through controversial elections, until he was forced to resign in November 2017, at the age of 93.

Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe greeted by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (PA)

Cars began honking horns and people cheered in the streets of the capital, Harare, as the news spread.

Mr Mugabe, who had been the world’s oldest head of state, was replaced by Mr Mnangagwa, who had recently been fired as Mr Mugabe’s vice-president.

Speaking at the time, then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the end of Mr Mugabe’s reign appeared to be a “moment of hope” for the people of Zimbabwe, and should not be allowed to mark “the transition from one despotic rule to another”.

We send condolences to the Government and the people of the Zimbabwe following the passing on of their founding leader and former President Robert Mugabe. The fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter died in a hospital in Singapore. He was 95.

— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) September 6, 2019

Mr Johnson – speaking about Mr Mnangagwa when he was tipped to take over the office – said: “I think it’s very important at the moment that we don’t focus too much on the personalities. Let’s concentrate on the potential, the hope for Zimbabwe – an incredible country, a beautiful country blessed with extraordinary physical and human potential.

“What we need to see now is free, fair, democratic elections and above all not a transition from one despotic rule to another.”

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